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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Chambers back in the house

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

As Ernie Chambers would tell us, the next Legislature (convening Jan. 9, 2013) will have 30 Repellicans, 17 Demagogues and 2 independents (he's one of them).

The state's longest-serving senator, returning after a term-limited four years, refers to his party-banner-toting colleagues in the officially non-partisan body in such terms. Always has. And his fellow lawmakers have always taken it with the good-natured degree with which it is intended.

There are 3 fewer Repell ... er, Republicans in the 103rd Legislature, First Session. Only on rare occasion do the party faithful make an issue about the makeup. There are no open party caucuses and the alignments and allegiances are often well known.

Republican Gov. Charlie Thone had his "Thone Clones," a lockstep group of senators who toed the party line and fulfilled his wishes. Democrat Governors Jim Exon and Ben Nelson were both "centrist" enough that they often played both sides of the aisle well. Republican Gov. Kay Orr was more concerned about keeping Omaha-based food giant ConAgra in Nebraska than anything else and pulled out all the stops with her LB775 platoon that worked (or worked over) both parties equally hard.

Mrs. Orr, who defeated former Lincoln Mayor Helen Boosalis in the first such race in the nation's history featuring two women, served only one term. An outward indicator of trouble with the Orr Ship of State was the entrance and exit of more than a dozen chiefs of staff in four years. One of them quipped, during his last day on the job, that the "reorganization in the governor's office was akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." The Republican Party even hired a guy named Dave Heineman to spend six weeks figuring out what was happening to the Orr administration. Nelson's election delivered a definitive answer to that question.

But this year, Republican Party Chairman Mark Fahleson has issued a plea to the majority to "not let Democrats get elected to chairmanships." An unusual request in a mostly Republican state where the majority party apparently has the opposition outnumbered almost two-to-one.

In July, the state Republican Party adopted a platform that calls for converting the Legislature into a partisan system. Some Republicans say the lack of party labels on ballots makes it easier for Democrats to get elected in Nebraska.

Fahleson said he has been contacted by "a number" of people who are concerned that lawmakers the Republican Party helped elect may "secretly vote" for Democrats. Fahleson said Democrats want to destroy Governor Dave Heineman's agenda of a smaller, more efficient state government."

Aside from party affiliation, the 2013 Legislature will have 10 women and 39 men. There will be 11 new faces, ten of them first-timers. The other one? Ernie Chambers, who lists himself as "Defender of the Downtrodden," his favorite moniker for his own occupation.

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J.L. Schmidt
Capitol View
Nebraska Press Association